Monday, April 11, 2011
When all the little things add up to one defining moment...pt 7
Hey folks, sorry for the loooong delay in part 7. Busy with college, life, ups and downs. Happened to be looking today at it for another reason and realized I needed to start on it again...so here we are. Pt. 7...enjoy. *and for some reason this post does NOT want to break up into paragraphs so sorry for the eye strain. My husband came home one day and asked if I would like to visit some Americans. An American man worked at the military base on a project and my husband had gotten to know him. He invited us over to meet his wife assuming I would love to meet other American women. Didn't have to ask me twice. I was so excited at the mere thought of meeting someone "like me"; with my cultural background, my language, my nationality etc. but had been so deeply thrown into my little world of isolation and culture shock that I also felt somewhat apprehensive to meet her. I looked forward to it and shied away from it at the same time. They lived on a compound with other American/European families. It was beautiful and so far removed from what I had been experiencing for the past couple of months. There were trees, gardens, swimming pools...it was clean, pretty and quiet. I sat staring out the window as if I had entered a world I had never seen before...it seemed so unfamiliar to me now. It was as if now I was the foreigner to that life I had once been familiar with. My husband laughed and "promised" that one day we would live in something similar. I clutched onto that promise that fell from his lips so easily and kept it tucked away in a corner of my heart to be taken out at those moments when I felt I couldn't live another day in his mother's house. At times that promise was my talisman, my prayer beads, my only hope that the place I called home now was not something I would have to endure forever. His name was Glen and hers was Diane. She was very tall and very pregnant with one little toddler running around already. Inside the house was even prettier than the outside. I know now that it could not have been all that different from any nicely decorated house I might find anywhere in the U.S. but it was like a mansion in my eyes that night. The rooms were very big with high ceilings and there was furniture; a couch and recliners, table and chairs, end tables with vases. I had just spent 2 months sitting on the floor surrounded by broken walls, bad lighting, thick dust, and rats running round...this was so far removed from that I felt like I was in a queen's palace. Diane could see my gawking and asked if I would like a tour and then took me around after a mere nod from me. My tongue was tied up tight and it seemed all I was capable of doing was making inarticulate noises over everything she showed me. Her house was full of the very same things MY childhood house had been full of for the most part but I was seeing these things now like someone who had only ever dreamed of experiencing life with such "luxuries"...which is how I now viewed these things that I had grown up with but were now something from another life. The one thing she did have that I absolutely felt jealous over was a very large bookshelf full to over flowing with books. She saw me looking at them like a thirsty man looking at cold water and she offered to lend me some. I probably would have spent the remainder of the evening just browsing her shelves if I thought it would have been acceptable guest behavior, but instead I just grabbed a few at hand and counted the minutes until I could get home to read them. I was so starved for the one joy I had always been able to engage at any time in my life..up until now. As nice as Diane was and even though I was enjoying my evening immensely, I very much wanted to get back to my room and just read. The remainder of the evening was lots of fun. We all talked and got to know each other. My tongue loosened up and I felt happy to be around "normal" people; my kind of people. Several times Diane or Glen would ask me questions about my husbands family, our home, what I did and how did I like Bahrain so far. Each time I tried to answer with honesty my husband would jump in, answer for me, then change the subject. I'm sure they got the message eventually as they almost stopped asking me anything at all before the night was over. For me it was the first time I realized my husband didn't want anyone to know how we lived, or rather how I lived. He didn't want me describing our house, or how his family treated me, or what I didn't do all day as I sat in my room counting ticks on the clock. Soon I would learn that this extended to my own family as well. Over those first few years on the rare occasion that I did speak to my mother on the phone, he sat right there listening to the whole conversation...if it seemed as if we were straying into "forbidden" territory, he would immediately claim time was up and I had to say good bye. Years later my mother told me she knew something was wrong but felt by straight out asking me she might be causing me trouble of some kind. The one phone we did have in the house (when it was on) was in his sister's bedroom so I could never use it without her knowing, and she also always sat with me during phone calls. Phone booths around our area were always broken or just not there anymore and so was rarely able to find a working one on the few occasions I purposely went looking for one. All this meant I had almost no contact with my family for the first few years I was in Bahrain. Occasional phone calls limited to a few minutes at best. By the time the evening came to a close I felt like I had found a new friend in Diane. Someone I could relate too, talk too; someone who would chase away the loneliness and make my long days a little more bearable. She invited me over again anytime I wanted and told me she would introduce me to some other ladies on the compound and that soon I would have lots of friends. I was thankful beyond words and felt as if I was grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of having friends. We said our goodbyes and headed for the car. The moment we slammed the doors my husband was lecturing me on how our lives and how we lived it was a private matter between him and I and I had no right trying to expose it to others as if we lived in a "fishbowl". One of his favorite sayings over the years. I told him that this was small talk, how people got to know each other...as if he didn't know that since he did the same with me when we met (though he left some bits out obviously), but he wouldn't have it. He told me he wouldn't bring me to her house again if I was just going to make him look bad in other people eyes, which I thought was a strange thing to say because I hadn't actually said anything at all; good or bad as he pre-empted my answer almost every time. I sat there quietly thinking that he must be well aware how others would view the life he had brought me too if he didn't want them knowing...and judging him by it. Eventually he ruined my lovely evening by reducing me to tears; something that happened a lot those first years in Bahrain. I couldn't argue back, fight back, or defend myself...I just fell pathetically into a puddle of tears feeling absolutely useless and helpless. Looking back I'm positive I cried enough tears in those early years to keep Noah's ark afloat for a good long while. Over the next 2 years I only got to visit with Diane a couple of times. My husband was always too busy to take me there...though I felt it was more because he didn't want me to develop a close friendship with her. After both of our children were born I was able to visit her a few more times but then news came that her and Glen were leaving Bahrain. I was devastated. They were the only Americans I knew and I felt as if they were abandoning me in some way...as if a lifeline I had to reality was being cut without warning. She invited me over for one last visit but my husband declined and I was so upset with his refusal to let me visit with her again. Later that day Glen stopped by and gave me some toddler clothes her son had outgrown and some books etc. When he arrived at our house he stood outside on the street and one of the nieces came to tell me there was a man waiting for me. She said it as if my lover had come calling openly and brazenly for all the world to see. I felt embarrassed and ashamed as if that fact were indeed true...but hurried down to see Glen, hoping Diane was with him. (all the while in the back of my head was the thought of inviting them in to the house and what they would think of it). Diane was not with him (I felt a sigh of relief actually) and he was obviously uncomfortable being there. He kept looking up and down the small street at all the men looking at him, no doubt wondering what he was doing there, who he was visiting in this house with Bahraini women etc. He was nervous and wanted to leave but spoke with me a few moments and passed along the gifts and some words from Diane. I asked him if he had an address or phone number that I could contact Diane with later on and he said he had already given it to my husband. He stood there a moment, not saying anything but acting as if he wanted too. I could see him glancing over my shoulder into the dim interior of the house, then looking up at the side of the house and then once again up and down the street. His desire to ask me if I was all right, if I wanted or needed help was palatable. I could almost hear him speaking the words even though his lips had not moved...and then he was backing away with regrets that he was very busy and needed to get going. They left Bahrain a few days later and never spoke or was in contact with Diane after that. My husband claimed Glen never gave him an address or phone number and so she was gone from my life. Tragically years later we would actually hear about Glen and Diane through another couple that knew them. Their son that was born when my daughter was born was killed in a freak accident with a lawn mover when he was around 8 years old. Even though I had not heard from her since they left I still felt so incredibly sad for her for her loss and remembered the days when our children played together. I still have one picture that shows my daughter and her son standing near each other outside in her yard. I would not meet another American family, or even American period, for several years after that. Over the 20 years of our marriage my husband purposely kept me from knowing Americans because he explained that they would lead me to "bad behavoir" or "thoughts"; that they were immoral and so would encourage me to be immoral too. Other than meeting one here and there by chance for a quick chat, I had almost no contact with fellow Americans at all in that time. Years later I would actually live near some Americans and Brits while living in Hamad Town but our friendships could not flourish simply because he wouldn't allow them too. Eventually they would get the message and break off contacat with me. I had very little to do with Americans during my marriage. The only english I spoke was broken stilted english I eventually became use to because that made it easier for nonenglish speakers to understand me. (something I was still doing when I finally returned to America in '09, so much so Americans thought I was a foreigner...lol) I was surrounded by Bahrainis and all that came with that day in and day out for most of my marriage...and yet for many of them...I was always the outsider, the foreigner, Americano englizay who they spoke of when I was sitting right there as if I couldn't possibly understand what they were saying...but then did the same when they knew I COULD understand what they were saying. I did meet some lovely Bahrainis during my life there and I know that many foreigners that have and do live in Bahrain find it a perfectly lovely place to live and can't speak highly enough about it. I envy them for that positive feeling they have of it but I was never allowed to enjoy Bahrain. To get to know it, explore it, meet the wide variety of people that live there and can't get enough of it. I was not allowed to work, socialize with anyone he didn't approve of (which meant I had very few people in my life..mostly just his extended family) and was, for the most part, surrounded by Bahrainis that didn't like me for whatever reason; or ignored me once the initial interest was over or flat out showed active disdain for me simply because I was an American. In other words, I was surrounded by negativity both inside my home, and on the odd occasions I was with other women. I made very few friends among Bahraini women despite my many attempts at forging friendships; at the end of the day they were just women I knew.